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(The Philosophical Part)
THE COMMON MAN’S GITA
This is a presentation of an English translation of selectively only the philosophical parts of Dnyaneshwari which is a commentary on Gita written by Saint Dnyaneshwar in the contemporary Marathi language more than seven centuries ago bringing the philosophy of Gita, until then the prerogative of Sanskrit knowing pundits, to common man. It is written in verse form as used to be custom of those days, using the ovi style. It is the cream of the Vedantic philosophy presenting the reader with revelation about the nature of the real Self. Asserting that an individual is not his mortal perishable body but in reality the immortal indestructible soul associated with and residing in it. The soul is the same as Brahman and the Supreme God implying that God is within you. One does not realise this because one is deeply entrenched in ego and lure of the sense pleasures which concern only the body. Dnyaneshwari/Gita presents the reader with various paths towards realisation of the real Self (i.e. realisation that he is not the body but soul) which leads to liberation (or Moksha) from the cycle of births and death to which an individual is subjected again and again. Pros and cons of various paths like Yoga, Knowledge, Bhakti (devotion) and the most important, the path of action which recommends one to carry out ones normal duties with detachment are discussed in great detail. Elaborate explanations are given making use of similes, examples and metaphors to make the philosophy of Gita easily understandable even to a layman. Following the appropriate recommendations in Dnyaneshwari can lead to Self-realisation and liberation even while a person is still living. This is the key to bliss and happy living. Dnyaneshwari has been a household book for several centuries in Maharashtra.
Dnyaneshwari is really a wonder book. It was written seven centuries ago by Saint Dnyaneshwar at the age of sixteen on the instructions of his Guru and elder (only by two years) brother Nivruttinath. Nivruttinath was a disciple of Gahininath, one of the nine gems or Navnaths of the Nath sect. The real name of Dnyaneshwari is "Bhavarthadeepika" or guide to the meaning of Gita. It is both a poetry and philosophy stringed together. Each Shloka of Gita is elaborately explained with examples and similes making one wonder how a boy of sixteen could obtain all the knowledge about ways of the world to write about it. Each Shloka of Gita is explained using several ovis. In some cases the topics are explained in great detail. For example, the Gita Shloka 13.7 dealing withthe characteristics of a man of knowledge is explained in 328 ovis, while the topic of ignorance which is just mentioned in Gita in the Shloka 13.11 is elaborated in 248 ovis. The 700 shlokas of Gita are explained in 9032 ovis. Thus Dnyaneshwari goes much beyond Gita in that while the conciseness of Gita makes its text difficult to follow by itself even for intellectuals, Dnyaneshwari explains the same in elaborate details in a way easily understandable to a common man. Thus Dnyaneshwari is more appealing to a common man interested in spiritual pursuit as well as for developing an attitude towards life and living. It takes away the fear and misconceptions many people have about the spiritual path. There is no doubt that writing of the book involved a Divine hand. Saint Dnyaneshwar ascribes the capability for writing the commentary to the powers of his Guru, who is traditionally divine to his disciple.
Dnyaneshwari written seven hundred years ago is still vibrantly alive and is regularly read in many homes in Maharashtra. Some read it piously without bothering to understand its meaning or its philosophy in depth and others read it to imbibe the philosophy. Still others read it for its poetry. But reading and understanding it in the original verse form offers certain difficulties today even for persons knowing Marathi. One main reason is that like all languages Marathi also has undergone a transformation over the last few centuries. Few people understand the Marathi of seven hundred years ago. The meaning of many words is not the same as it used to be in those days and many words are not used at all today. But to an interested person who does not want to do research on Dnyaneshwari but would like to read it for its contents, this is not such an insurmountable problem because prose and verse translations of the great book are now available in Marathi, Hindi and English. As would be expected there are a few differences among the translations since interpretation of some ovis is difficult due to ambiguity. But that is also not a very serious matter for readers who are interested in the gross understanding.
But it is not the question of only language. Most translations are presented ovi by ovi. This poses a difficulty in smooth flow of thought for English translation because of the different structures of Marathi and English sentences. In Marathi a sentence has its verb towards the end while in English the verb comes in the earlier part of the sentence immediately after the subject. Thus he sequential ovi-by-ovi translation of material spread over several ovis creates a structural difficulty. In this book therefore translation has been presented for a cogent group of ovis along with topical sub-headings for ease in reading.
Secondly, the art of writing has also changed over the ages. One no longer writes any more in a circumspect style and even novels are written in a crisp direct language unlike the long-winded novels of late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. That is partly because people are more used to reading diverse scientific, technical, socio-political and fictional literature today than the limited reading of six or seven decades ago. Especially persons belonging to technical and commercial field are used to even more direct, to-the-point writing and to executive summaries which give the essentials without waste of time. Dnyaneshwari text is considerably long winded and enthusiasm of a beginner for reading the book can be easily dampened. There is a reason why the text is long winded. Anybody who has read old novels or essays knows that it was the style of those days. Secondly, the explanation to common people of a difficult subject had to be made through examples, similes and metaphors. This approach in not only unnecessary today as mentioned earlier, but it can discourage an interested reader because the thread of the argument can be lost.
To a person with philosophical bent of mind but not having too much time at his disposal in today’s hurrying world, an appealing text would be one which is devoid of the poetry, similes and metaphors, rewritten in the modern day crisp direct style. The presentation has to be appealing enough for a novice to be gripped by it so that once his interest is awakened (which is the first step to become a seeker) he can catch on and in the process also develops a more patient attitude towards life. In Dnyaneshwari, the very similes and examples which Dnyaneshwar Maharaj used to explain the meaning of the Shlokas of Gita do cause a distraction to a modern reader in the smooth flow of logical philosophical arguments. This is the reason why the present translation omits the ovis which give more than one example or similes or those ovis which it was felt are not needed in view of the already clear explanation given by Dnyaneshwar Maharaj. Only those similes which help to clarify the meaning have been retained. Also omitted are those ovis in the beginning and end of each chapter which are extraneous to the philosophical aspects, written in praise of Shri Nivruttinath, the Guru (and elder brother by two years) of Dnyaneshwar Maharaj and other linking material. It will be noted from the table given in the beginning that the number of ovis translated is 5752 out of the total 9032 ovis or 63.7% of the total number which amply justifies the approach adopted here. It must be noted that it is possible to condense the text still further to present a cogent summary of Dnyaneshwari in its essential details, without sacrificing the basic meaning because both Gita and Dnyaneshwar consist of some repetition. However the present text is a raw translation of the philosophical part and may therefore be considered as the first phase of the condensation.
The present work, which draws on the advice given in Gita the celestial poem, as explained in Dnyaneshwari, is written for persons who have a basic (or even dormant) interest in spiritual matters but have little time to read spiritual texts. There is a large number of such persons today especially the executives and the professionals who get very little free time from their professional pre-occupations. These are the persons of sharp intelligence, devoted to their duties, but with limited time for extracurricular activities. There is a subconscious respect for God in the hearts and minds of everybody and a professional is no exception to it. It only needs to find a way out. Intelligence and spirituality seem to be well associated mutually. Greatest spiritual persons were people of high intelligence who were curious enough to ask themselves the question "Who am I?" and in looking for the answer, took to spiritual path; or they were persons who had a natural attraction towards the spiritual path. While some renounced the world and became sanyasis, contrary to the belief many have even today, one need not forsake his family life in order to take up a spiritual path. The reader will find it stated in the Dnyaneshwari that it is not necessary to give up your normal life in order to search for God. You have a choice of paths which ultimately end, according to the Indian philosophy and the experience of the spiritual masters, into Self-realisation i.e. a realisation that you are no different from the Almighty. That is why every intelligent person should read Dnyaneshwari.
There are many reasons why intelligent persons should turn to the spiritual path. Intelligence like other qualities is a gift of God. It is not a personal achievement and therefore, instead of being proud about one's intelligence the correct attitude should be that of gratitude towards the Almighty for possessing it. Having this gift of God, one may expect an intelligent executive or professional to utilise that gift to experience Self-realisation. Many persons seem to realise this and become spiritual seekers. A large number of people joining the various spiritual institutions like the Ramakrishna Ashram, the order of Samarth Ramdas at Sajjangad in Maharashtra and many others are persons of high academic achievement. For many intellectuals however there are many initial problems and mental hurdles to be overcome before he becomes a seeker.
The first hurdle is the misconception that one has to renounce the worldly life for taking up the spiritual path. This leads to the fear of losing the joys of family life and other channels of enjoyment like parties and picnics. Gita (and naturally Dnyaneshwari) teaches us that these are the matters of attitude, the fear is misplaced and it is not at all necessary to renounce the world and be a Sanyasi in order to follow a spiritual path. In fact it considers Sanyas as unnecessary.
The second hurdle is the fear that spiritual exercises would divert the mind from the duties of the office and impede success. This is also not correct. Spiritual exercises instil a discipline into one’s person, remove fear and make one more efficient. It is well known that many disciples of Maharshi Mahesh Yogi have become highly successful in their professional activities. In fact, many techniques which borrow from Hatha-yoga and meditation technique, have been evolved and touted today for pacifying the mind and instilling a positive approach to life. Many executives pay high fees to attend such courses and workshops where these techniques are taught and find then beneficial. Even big commercial companies send their executives to such courses. However the philosophy of Gita goes much beyond that.
Third hurdle is the mental impediment about the availability of time. This again is baseless, for one can always find a few minutes in a day, even while travelling to work, to ponder over spiritual matters or read about it.
Fourth is the lack of direction as to which path to take and doubts like, how to go about it? Who would guide and tell whether the path taken is correct or not? and so on. Gita answers many of these questions and suggests many paths. It is for you to choose. And then some day if your desire is deep then a Guru will find you (without your running around in search of him and getting duped by the fakes) and guide you. Until then your conscience which is with and within you is your guide and the path will be shown.
There is fifth and a very important hurdle and that concerns the ego. Intelligence and ego, learning and ego go together. It is this ego which can come in the way of friendship, success and Self-realisation. It nurtures dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Dnyaneshwari specifically mentions this drawback and has dealt at length on this topic. In spiritual pursuit, the high devotion of an illiterate and a simpleton can lead to Self-realisation faster than that of a learned person without devotion.
But Gita, though it contains only 700 verses and would take only couple of hours to read, (the original or literal translation) is rather a difficult text and can sometimes be confusing. The treatises and commentaries can remove some of the confusion but all, including Dnyaneshwari take a long time to read, something which can be difficult for time-starved executives. I believe that when it comes to the basic statements of philosophy, there is scope for recasting the text of Gita or commentaries on it, to make the statement of the philosophy consistent and short.
Executives and professionals , by virtue of the nature of their work are constrained to practice a materialistic approach to life. They are therefore subject to all the stresses derived therefrom. The stresses and the resultant problems of health can be avoided and one can have a happy life if one understands and follows the basic philosophy of Gita/Dnyaneshwari. The changes in attitude give happiness and lay a foundation for the current life as well as life after retirement. The changes are transmitted to one's family who also become happy. A few can pursue the spiritual path while leading a normal life and attain experience of God.
Let us now discuss some basic related aspects of Indian philosophy and the spiritual approach of an Indian Hindu.
RELIGION AND SPIRITUAL PATH
Every human being carries in his heart some feeling about God. Over the ages man has tried to explore whatever he can about God. Early man seems to have wondered about nature, life and especially about death. He worshipped various deities from animals to nature Gods, to pray for being saved from calamities, for success in his endeavours, for sons, for wealth, for getting cured from diseases and even for immortality. Much of that history is broadly known but details of the history of human thinking about God has always been somewhat clouded due to lack of records, due to ingrained religious bias and many other factors like distorting the historical facts through fantasies and miracles as the Puranas have done in India. We need not go into details about these aspects here. Suffice it to say that philosophical thinking has led people to propound on, as one extreme, a total non-existence of God and as another extreme, belief that God exists everywhere and is the Creator of this life and universe itself. History tells us that the theories of non-existence of God have always been short-lived, typical being that of Charvaka in ancient India and the communist philosophy of the twentieth century. The latter was propounded from England, found a soil in Russia and over the decades failed miserably with the Russian people reverting back to the Church.
What has survived over the centuries is the acceptance that there is a superior power or force in this Universe which we call God. Different religions broadly state the same concept but differ in the modalities of worship or prayers and other details. Religions as we know them today may be classified into two types. Those which have evolved through tradition and way of life like the Hindu and Jewish religion in which great seers who experienced the Supreme power guided people from time to time. The second type are those which constitute the followers of some great seers who are born in the midst of religious chaos or misdirection in certain times and in certain places. The Buddhist, Christian and Muslim religions belong to this class. The teachings of the seers constitute the guiding spirit of these religions. The seers themselves are considered as divine messengers or even as a form of God. The descriptions of the experiences and visions of various seers, prophets, rishis, yogis etc. have surprisingly common features irrespective of religious and geographic boundaries and whether they are ancient or modern. That itself fully supports the existence of a common superior power whatever be the name by which you call It.
Irrespective of one’s formal religion, a person individually may or may not believe in God, or if he does believe he may or may not bother about Him in his day to day life, or if he does bother it may be just as a family tradition or a social requirement that he prays or worships or visits the temple, church or mosque or, if he does so he may be just asking material favours like wealth and success. Some do the worship out of fear of the retribution while they live or after they die if they do not worship as per prescribed rituals. Rare is the person who transcends the material aspects of life and tries to experience God. The word experience is used here because it has been well established that it is not possible to know God but His presence has only to be experienced. It may be experienced by following the path of a selfless service to people out of love and compassion (a path followed by many luminaries of Christian faith e.g. Mother Teresa). Or as advised by the Indian seers one may experience Him through many other paths like the path of yoga and meditation or the path of devotion. Gita additionally recommends the path of action wherein one simply does one’s duties selflessly without desire of fruits and makes an offering of the actions and the fruits to Him. These paths are discussed in some detail in Gita (and in much more detail in the Dnyaneshwari) which is supposed to be the cream of the Vedantic or Upanishadic philosophy about God and how to experience Him.
For many centuries, Gita has been considered as a guide for the seekers or followers of the spiritual path as well as for leading a righteous life while doing one’s duties properly. Gita however is too concise and sometimes confusing requiring careful understanding of its contents. It recommends various ways of leading one’s life all intended finally to attain Self-realisation, reminding in the process that the process of attaining Self-realisation is not something to be completed is a hurry but is a long process which may extend over several lifetimes.
Sectarian advice given by religious heads or leaders of a particular path or sect is generally specific. For example a Vaishnavite Guru will recommend not to worship or meditate on any deity other that Vishnu, Shri Rama or Shri Krishna while a Shaivaite will recommend only worship of Shiva. People are used to sectarian advice and people seem to like it probably because it makes life a little simpler and frees them from mental exercises on Truth. Gita gives a choice of four paths and therefore it can confuse a wavering novice who would like to be recommended only one path.
Because of the difficult exposition of Gita, many commentaries have been written on it, trying to explain its meaning. Naturally the stress in each commentary depends on the personality and the experience of the writer. As mentioned in the beginning, Bhavartadeepika or Dnyaneshwari is one of the oldest commentaries written about seven hundred years ago. While other commentaries are heavy and loaded by the scholarship of the authors and probably understood only by persons of similar status, Dnyaneshwari was written specifically to bring the philosophy of Gita to common folk. It was written in a contemporary language of the people even though it displeased the contemporary orthodox society who looked down upon anything not written in Sanskrit. It has been doing its task admirably for more than seven centuries.
GITA - HISTORICAL FACTS
Gita is considered as a part of the Epic Mahabharata. Traditional belief is that Gita comprises of the advice given by Lord Krishna to a disheartened Arjuna when the armies of Pandavas and Kauravas were standing face to face on the Kurukshetra battlefield. On the first day, Arjuna asked Lord Krishna who had consented to be his charioteer, to take the chariot to the centre between the two armies in order to have a look at both the armies before the battle started. Shri Krishna did so and when Arjuna saw all his elders whom he revered, and his cousins and friends whom he would be fighting, the thought that so many people including those whom he loved and respected would be killed during the war unnerved him. He therefore refused to fight. This was a shock to Shri Krishna who gave a profound advice to Arjuna which is now known as Gita.
Historical research however tells us that the Gita was composed by Sauti who lived around 450 BC and that he has blended a number of spiritual philosophies including Upanishadic ones presenting them as a dialogue between Lord Krishna and Arjuna.
Though the pious believe otherwise, common sense tells that the advice in Gita in the present form could not have been was told on the battlefield by Lord Krishna to Arjuna just before the Mahabharata war. Even in verse form it takes about two hours for recitation of the 700 shlokas (verses) of Gita. In prose it would take much longer. Can the armies wait on the battleground for such a long time? Besides, when one reads Gita, it is quite clear that Arjuna would have understood his folly after what was said in the early part of the second chapter. Rest of it is Sankhya and Vedantic philosophy and philosophy of the paths of action and of devotion, topics which have no relevance under the circumstances. The Gita therefore must have been a peacetime composition. This may be confirmed from the research made by Mr M. R. Yardi presented in his book titled "Mahabharata, Its Genesis and Growth, a Statistical Study". Mr Yardi, a scholar, is the author of analytical books on Ramayana and Gita besides the translations of Dnyaneshwari in Marathi prose, Hindi and English, (published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan). The essence of his study is as follows:
Yardi’s analysis It has been known for a long time that the version of Mahabharata text as we have it today is not the original version but one to which many authors have added their own material over about a millennium. The original version named Jaya composed immediately after the great Mahabharata war (which took place a little earlier than 1000 BC according to western scholars and much earlier according to some Indian scholars) was written by the great Rishi Vyas. It mainly described the family feud and the war. This composition is now lost. But a generation later, in around 950 BC, Rishi Vaishampayana retold the events to King Janamejaya, great-grandson of Arjuna during the Snake sacrifice (Sarpayajna) performed in order to avenge the killing of his father Parikshita by Takshaka the King of snakes. This narration was known as Bharat. Additions to this version were made much later in about 450 BC by Suta and his son Sauti who were well-known Puraniks (Mythological story-tellers). Further additions were made by one Harivanshakara in the second century BC and still later by Parvasangrahakara in the first century BC. Haivanshkara also added Haivansha, a biography of Shri Krishna which is considered to be part of Mahabharata today.
Through a statistical analyses of the Anushtup metre used in the Shlokas (stanzas) of the epic Mahabharata, Mr Yardi has been able to separate the contribution of each of the additions as follows: Original Jaya by Vyas had 8,800 shlokas; Bharat by Rishi Vaishampayana had 21,162 shlokas; Suta contributed 17284 shlokas and his son Sauti 26,728 shlokas; Harivanshakara added 9053 shlokas and Parvasangrahakara 1369 shlokas. This makes a total of 75596 Shlokas and together with Harivansha which has 6073 Shlokas the total size of the Mahabharata Epic is 81670 Shlokas. Different copies of Mahabharata give different numbers of Shlokas. Yardi has used the Critical Edition by Sukhatankar (1944) available with the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute Pune.
The analysis also shows that the Gita was added to Mahabharata by Sauti who lived around 450 BC. Gita which has been presented as a dialogue between Lord Krishna and the Pandava prince Arjuna on the battlefield is not a factual report of the dialogue but a later addition made by Sauti to the original Mahabharata. Shri Krishna was deified and considered as an avatar of Lord Vishnu some centuries after he died but before Sauti’s time thus enabling him to present Shri Krishna as the Supreme God. Gita is the synthesis of the Vedantic philosophy about the nature of God with other philosophies known in Sauti’s time namely the Yoga and Bhakti (devotion). But what is the source of the philosophies and the various paths presented by Sauti in Gita which presents the reader with revelation about the real self or Brahman, and a choice of various spiritual paths, like Yoga, Bhakti (devotion) and the most important, the path of action which recommends one to carry out one’s normal duties with detachment and without desire for fruits?
In his scholarly book "The Bhagvadgita as a Synthesis", Yardi gives the following interesting information related to Shri Krishna and the source of the philosophies presented by Sauti through his lips in the role of the Supreme God:
There is sufficient evidence in Mahabharata to show that in his time Shri Krishna was considered as a human being and not an avatar. The deity worshipped in those times was Lord Shiva whom Shri Krishna also worshipped. He had propitiated Lord Shiva to obtain a boon of a son from Rukmini and again from another wife Jambavati. After he received the boon Uma, wife of Lord Shiva was delighted by his devotion to Lord Shiva and she too granted him boons addressing him as amaraprabhava i.e. one possessed of prowess equal to that of an immortal. Also, during a dialogue with Bhishma regarding the glory of Lord Shiva, Shri Krishna refers to himself as a mere human being and therefore not in a position to know that great God who was the final goal of all good men. However Shri Krishna was credited with high degree of spiritual power and was recognised by the Vrishni clan (to which Shri Krishna belonged) as a human god. In the days of Sauti he came to be recognised as a partial avatar of Vishnu. Though he is referred to as a cowherd in Suta-Sauti’s version of the Epic, the stories of his being a child-god in Gokul and his playing with Gopis occur only in the additions by Harivanshakara. The legends which connect him with Radha, his favourite gopi, occurs for the first time in 900 AD. Radha is not at all mentioned either in Mahabharata, not even in the Harivanshakara’s additions to it though the latter primarily deals with the biography (?) of Shri Krishna.
Some scholars belonging to the Varshni clan, though they themselves followed the Panchratra (same as Bhagwat or Bhakti) path worshipping Vishnu, showed an interest in the Vedantic philosophy of the Upanishads. Shri Krishna, belonging to the Varshni tribe must have also shown such interest and gone to the Rishi Ghora Angiras for receiving instructions in the subject. Now, Shri Krishna’s ancestor was Yadu, the son Yayati by Devayani who was the daughter of the Asura priest Shukracharya. (She was cursed by Kacha that she will not marry a brahmin and married the Kshatriya Yayati). Shukrachraya (also known as Ushanas) himself was the grandson of Rishi Bhrigu. The Bhargava clan must have held Shri Krishna in high regard because of this connection to Bhrigu and therefore preserved his philosophical teachings. Shaunaka muni, himself a Bhargava, must have known about these teachings and prevailed upon Sauti, whom he met during the twelve year yajna session conducted by him in the Naimisha forest, to incorporate them in Mahabharata. Thus, though the scene depicted by Sauti about Shri Krishna advising Arjuna on the battlefield is a fiction written to fit the text, the philosophy itself is what Shri Krishna had learnt from Ghora Angiras. The above analysis also clearly indicates what an unusual person Shri Krishna must have been, a warrior, a diplomat, a philosopher, a strategist, a moralist, a family person and a yogi and undoubtedly worthy of being considered as an avatar with all the Divine manifestations mentioned in the tenth chapter of Gita.
Sauti must have been a mental giant to have stringed together a spiritual guide incorporating the philosophies of the day, at the same time adding to Mahabharata a large number of mythological stories, historical information and codes of social, political and religious behaviour making Mahabharata virtually an encyclopaedia. (He also expanded the Ramayana in the same fashion). Nevertheless one must agree that these additions have weakened the already weak historical base of Indian history.
One intriguing aspect of Gita relevant to modern times concerns the caste system prevalent in India. One cannot blame Sauti for his views on the caste system because that was the belief current in those days. It is one of the basis of Dharma or code of conduct and is intriguing because it is difficult to explain how God, the creator of all, should differentiate between his children and why a Divine edict was practised only in India is prevailing only in India. The caste system got a temporary knock after Buddhism spread and many subsequent sects like Nath Panth and Mahanubhava Panth did not bother about the caste system or even religion. But that was only temporary.
IRRELEVANCE OF HISTORICAL FACTS TO A DEVOTEE
The above historical facts only satisfy an intellectual curiosity. The orthodox and pious would certainly not like them and contest them in some way or other, generally not based on scientific findings. But in reality they are of no relevance to a spiritual seeker or to a devotee whose base is the faith, piety and above all an intrinsic love for God in whatever form he may be worshipping Him. An intellectual is not without faith but his faith is based on material aspects like observation and logic. It is the result of logical deduction from external information. When the latter changes, deductions and faith both change. That is not the case with intrinsic faith which does not change at all. That faith is associated with piety and love and the three are inseparably blended together.
Dnyaneshwari mentions four types of devotees: Arta (distressed), Jijnasu (curious), Artharthi (desirous of wealth) and Jnani (enlightened). Of these the first two need not necessarily believe in God. An Arta or distressed person suffers failures in life and surrenders to God because he has nowhere else left to go. If he gets relief then he develops faith and a seeker may be created. But a Jijnasu (curious) person takes up the spiritual path out of curiosity as regards what is God or about how the universe is managed and so on. He may take up the path of yoga which does not require that that there should be any love for God in his heart. That love comes later as he progresses and he is able to control and silence his mind clearing the channel between him and the Divine. Until then his faith is not garnished with piety and love. It is a noticeable feature of Dnyaneshwari that it stresses on this aspect of love for God whichever path one may follow.
The goal of spiritual pursuit is to realise the ultimate Truth i.e. Brahman or God. Spiritual pursuit involves negating the mind using the mind, reaching the truth by making use of apparent untruths or material objects. For example, one has to use one’s body and mind to get rid of the I-am-the-body ego. The perishable body is essential to follow the spiritual path for realising the imperishable Soul or Self. Mind itself is used to silence and negate mind through meditation and yoga. Similarly, one makes use of idols etc. having form and attributes to attain the formless and attributeless Brahman.
The question of truth or untruth has never been an impediment to a devotee but only to an intellectual. Take the case of the legendary love between Shri Krishna and the Gopis and especially Radha on which most of the devotional movement approach in India as well as abroad is based. As mentioned earlier, from purely historical considerations, Radha may not have existed at all. There is a slight mention of Radha in Bhagwat Purana which is fairly recent, but that does not pertain to all the (devotional) love life of Radha and Krishna which has been a popular topic of much of the Indian poetry and even as a base for devotional sects. The devotees take all this fiction about Radha-Krishna as well as the presentation of Shri Krishna as Supreme God as historical facts and swear by them, quoting them to prove their point. To a devotee it is really immaterial whether Shri Krishna was a human being or an avatar, whether he played with Gopis or not. It is the love and devotion between them that is the most relevant entity which the devotee tries to cultivate and enhance through the stories and poems woven round his imagined actions. One should note that this is true in other religions as well.
What does it matter if Lord Shiva was historically an Aryan god or non-Aryan? In different ages different deities have been worshipped but the feeling of devotion and surrender remained the same. Deities are only a symbol for the Almighty. It is well-known that a devotee sees God in the form he imagines Him to be. And the lore woven around the deities increase the devotion and are the vehicles for spiritual uplift. That is how Saint Meera found her Shri Krishna, Saint Tulsidas conversed with Shri Rama and with Hanuman and that is how Ramakrishna Paramhansa talked with Mother Kali. Unfortunately even though deities are merely symbols for the almighty they also bring in Sectarianism like Vaishnavites, Shaivaites, Ganaptyas etc, depending upon the deities a community worships. That is because it is only one in a million who can go beyond the deity and experience Brahman. I was intrigued to read a statement by Mr Eashwaran in his excellent book "Am I a Hindu?" written for the American born Indian children. He informs that because of the presentation of Shri Krishna as Supreme God in Gita, it is not liked by the Shaivaites who form a sizeable section of the population of South India where rivalry between Shaivaites and Vaishnavaites is quite strong even today. But persons who stick to the sectarianism are bound and cannot be liberated unless they shed it.
APPLICABILITY OF GITA/DNYANESHWARI TODAY.
The paths of Yoga, Knowledge and Bhakti discussed in Gita/Dnyaneshwari are basically timeless. They are valid in any age. This is not quite so regarding the fourth path namely the path of Action which recommends that one’s actions must be as per Swadharma or own Dharma. The meaning of Dharma today is taken as one’s religion. But in the context of Gita it is to be considered as the code of behaviour, specifically righteous behaviour applicable to the individual. In a casteless society throughout the world except in India this merely means doing one’s social duties like paying one’s taxes in order to facilitate governance, fight for one’s country, helping the poor, offer prayers to God etc. However the Hindu society has been divided into four main castes Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. Each one is associated with a vocation e.g. Brahmin with learning, teaching and performing of rituals like yajnas; a Kshatriya with warfare and governing; a Vaishya with farming and trade; and a Shudra with serving the other three castes. Vedas were to be accessible only to the first three castes. Thus Swadharma means behaviour prescribed according to one’s caste. A Brahmin should not behave like a Kshatriya or a Vaishya or a Shudra, nor a Shudra according to any of the remaining three castes and so on. Smritis set the rules of behaviour as well as social law. But in practice brahmins became warriors, Bhrigus of ancient times and Peshwas of recent times, farmers and tradesmen throughout the centuries maintaining their castes of birth; Kshatriyas took to farming etc. but were not permitted to take higher caste professions. The caste system seems to have been maintained only as far as ritualistic religious matters were concerned and in the course of time Vedas were restricted to the brahmins.
In olden times, as it is even today in the rustic India, the social and religious life were closely linked. Religious duties for a brahmin or a kshatriya included offering of Arghya water to Sun, performance of Sandhya with recitation of Gayatri Mantra thrice daily, and offering of food etc. through the medium of fire i.e. yajna. The social obligations included feeding even uninvited guests irrespective of his caste or creed and doing ones professional duties as per one’s caste. (Even today when a stranger visits a house in Punjab he is greeted with the invitation that food is ready). The norms of behaviour and strategies for action proposed in the Gita are relevant to the times between say 1000 BC to about 200 BC. In between, Buddhism rose and influenced the socio-religious norms, until its influence vanished from Indian subcontinent and orthodox Hindu culture was revived by Adi Shankaracharya in about 700 AD. Saint Dnyaneshwar belongs to thirteenth century at which time the socio-religious life was not very different from Sauti's time except that the Muslim influence was becoming stronger.
Though the four-caste system started as a profession-based system, it transformed itself into birth based system and persisted to the present. It is now slowly weakening at least in the urban areas. Today, the professions followed by the educated class are no longer based on the caste of birth. A brahmin can be a sanitary engineer or own a shoe shop and a Kshatriya or Shudra can become a professor of Sanskrit. However the social separations continue to be caste-based. The meaning of Swadharma in the present socio-economic conditions has to be stretched to interpret in terms of professions and professional duties rather than the caste of birth and of course the social duties. The word can also mean one's nature. Even otherwise, how many people belonging to the three "upper" castes follow the routines recommended by religious books like Smritis? The constraints of modern day routine set by the West do not permit most of us to follow the routine recommended in the Smritis. Anyone following them would not be able to attend their work and earn livelihood. As regards the social duties, they include all the duties of a citizen, observance of social norms like civic sense, helping others by giving away food to the needy (not necessarily only to brahmins as Smritis would bid you to do), giving money and materials away in charity, social work like teaching, and helping welfare organisations, giving medical help and so on. There is third aspect: religious and spiritual. That includes routine worship, prayers etc. to keep the consciousness about the Almighty alive in your own heart and that of the family and to set the younger generation a discipline. And for seekers, following the paths prescribed in Dnyaneshwari or in similar texts. With these interpretations of Swadharma in today’s situation, there is no doubt that the philosophy of Dnyaneshwari is something one should read, ponder upon, understand and practice in order to cultivate an attitude which can only lead to happiness.
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Links to comments and to the Chapters of the Dnyaneshwari:
Portal Biography Saint Dnyaneshwar Prologue Shri Shankar Maharaj
Dnyaneshwari - Chapter: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13/1 13/2 14 15 16 17 18/1 18/2 18/3
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Last update: Essen, 04.04.04